Owlish Contemplations

I Dated You in My Heart: 5 Reasons Why the Church Needs to Talk More About Emotional Purity

I got the abstinence talk a lot growing up in church youth groups. I was part of the “True Love Waits” generation, the Rebecca St. James “Wait for Me” generation, the purity ring generation. And it was good and important and it helped me to set my standards high. In fact, higher than many as I rejected dating in high school and was all about “saving my lips for marriage.”

But they left something a little important out of all those youth group abstinence talks (or maybe I chose to ignore it) –

You can still give your heart away even if you never actually date someone. And sometimes it can be just as damaging.

I will never forget one of the most classic quotes from a CYT girl –

“He was the only one I married in my head. All the others I just held hands with.”

I laughed at the time, but probably because there was such a ring of truth to it. Sure I’ve never had a boyfriend – but how many guys have I linked to myself in my heart and merrily planned out our imaginary future even while telling myself it wasn’t real?

The problem is that we convince ourselves we’re safe. We’re not actually dating the other person so we feel like we’ll avoid the trauma and pain of shared memories shattering when the break-up comes. And we feel like we’re “protecting” ourselves. But we’re not. Because the real Central Station of this whole mess – the heart – is being attached more and more to the person when we think of them, dream of them, talk of them, and attach significance to all the things they say or do. And it becomes more and more wound tightly around someone who’s not actually ours to begin with.

I should know. The girl with the most vivid imagination is the one left with the deepest scars when all she planned as perfect didn’t come true.

What she should have been told (and should have put into practice) is that friendships must be guarded with the utmost care – for that’s where emotional involvement starts. Jesus pinpointed it perfectly when He said, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust after her in his heart has already committed adultery.” The adultery never starts in the bedroom. The adultery always starts with one longing in the heart.

So, church, what must we tell our young people about this topic of emotional purity – and why is it even important?

1. Emotional Purity is Important because our Hearts Need to Learn Self-Control
When I spend all my time pining in my heart and dreaming of a boy who isn’t mine to claim, I’m dating him in my heart. And I’m giving my heart to someone who will probably end up tossing it aside since he never spoke up for it in the first place. The whole while, I’m denying the reality of how hugely important I’ve allowed the other person to become in my heart.

Flirting is fun, but when the event is over and I’m home by myself, re-hashing the memories in my mind, all I have is empty jokes and shallow attentions thrown my way which don’t mean a thing long-term. Yet do I cling to them and try to make them mean something? Of course I do because I’m a girl, and girls make meaning out of anything they can grasp at if they like a guy!

Yet what this actually means is that I’m letting my emotions run away with themselves. I’m letting them take first hand instead of letting Christ control my mind. I’m letting silly fancies and fluffy imaginations take power when I need to be surrendering them to my Savior. Not all dreams are bad and not all lovely thoughts of gentlemen need to be banished … but when such thoughts take first priority over everything else, I’ve lost my self-control.

If the boy hasn’t spoke up to ask you to date him – or if the girl hasn’t said yes yet to date you – then you have no business allowing him or her to take up more space in your heart than is appropriate.

2. Emotional Purity is Important because We Don’t Need an Awkward Fifth Step
In theory, the progression of relationships should go: friendship, dating, engagement, marriage. In reality? It seems to be less and less so. And more and more often we get a weird “attraction-ship” step thrown in. You know – “I think I like him, I think he likes me, but we’re just friends. Even though we text every day and hang out a lot and he’s the first one I’d tell if something important happened in my life.” Yeah, at that point it should be called dating. Because that’s what dating someone looks like. But for a thousand and one reasons we’re too afraid to call it what it is. More often than not it boils down to this one thing: the other person really isn’t right for us to be dating but we don’t want to lose their friendship. Or maybe they are right for us but we’re too afraid to commit to them for fear of problems arising or losing our freedom or – you get the picture.

It’s time for us to man up and woman up. We need to be honest and forthright about our feelings. Don’t sidestep around it and say, “Well, I don’t really like you like that, but let’s stay best friends.” That is not respecting the other person. As hard as it is to let a friendship go, you need to allow them emotional freedom so that there is room for the one who will commit and say, “Yes, I’m willing to give this an honest go at it and see where it takes us.”

We need men who are leaders, who lovingly recognize when they’ve entered the attachment phase, and are ready to pursue something more. We need women who don’t lead men on because they like their attention, and who respectfully articulate how they truly feel.

3. Emotional Purity is Important because We Need to Protect the Other Person
Hearts are vulnerable, no matter how much we play it off. And we have no business playing around with one another’s hearts just because the attention feels good. Be careful what you say. Words you didn’t mean to go deep might go further than you think. Obviously you can’t control how the other person will take them, but you can control the intensity of your words. Don’t exaggerate feelings because you don’t know how else to express them. Don’t throw in confusing “love you’s” and winkie-smiley faces that could be taken more than one way.

We need to stop being casual about strong words because it allows us an out – we can hastily throw on an “I didn’t mean it like that!” if things start getting more serious than we intended. Don’t want things to get complicated? Then make your intentions clear and be aware of how your words can be perceived. Love the other person enough that you don’t always have to selfishly say whatever comes to mind – especially when it can wreak havoc with their emotions. Whether we are friends, dating, engaged or married, our greatest desire should be to protect the other person and point them back to a deeper relationship with Christ – not to have our little attention-meter filled and our “happy feels” to be satisfied. Christ clearly says to think of others as better than ourselves … so we need to ask ourselves before we send a text or make a seemingly innocent comment, “Could this be perceived by them as giving attention? How can I protect them and their heart through my words and actions?”

4. Emotional Purity is Important because We Need to Protect Our Own Hearts
I remember when I was in high school, and I made a pact with my best friend to “not like someone unless I was sure it was going to lead to marriage.” Yeah, that lasted about two months. How silly I was in my overly exaggerated pursuit to protect my heart! It’s impossible to think we won’t have some heartbreak on the road through life. We will fall for people we’ll never marry, we will date people we’ll never marry, we might even get engaged to people we’ll never marry (sad as that might be). Until we’re actually married, there’s no absolute guarantee of who that person will be. So trying to guard our hearts against any attraction that’s not linked to marriage is ridiculous.

But the idea of guarding our hearts against emotional tangle-ups that are confusing and distracting is not such a bad idea. If we allow ourselves to get into a lot of Friendships [you know the kind] just to go around in dizzying circles of emotion that’s denied, we will do more damage to our hearts than we ever wanted.

It is our job to not read into everything or re-run memories shared a dozen times. It’s our job to not assume anything until intention is clearly spelled out. It’s our job not to allow the other person to reap the benefits of a friendship without further commitment. Our job is to pray about the other person more than we spend picturing our future together, immerse ourselves in positive activities such as work and ministry, and seek the Lord’s face in wisdom for our future. And sometimes our job is to have a serious sit-down talk with the other person and put an end to playful, filled-with-questions interactions that are going nowhere.

5. Emotional Purity is Important because our Hearts Need to Find Ultimate Satisfaction in Christ
This is different from the conditional message I also heard growing up – that we won’t find someone until we are completely satisfied in Christ first. Well, that’s a load of baloney since nowhere in Scripture does it make the promise, “Be satisfied in me, and I will bring you a spouse to also make you happy.”

But the truth of the matter is that our hearts were made to be satisfied by One alone and that is Christ. We are human. Our hearts stumble and get drawn away. We will never love Christ perfectly, but He does teach us everyday what it looks like to be more and more delighted in Him rather than the things of this world.

And when we allow our hearts to continuously play emotional games and pretend like our little Friendships are harmless, we are cultivating discontent and a restless heart. Rather, can we not forcibly turn our eyes to our Savior and learn to say with honesty, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26)?

When our hearts restlessly play games with one person after another, we have to stop and ask ourselves, “Do I really want a relationship with this person? Or am I just trying to fill the void that only God can fill?” He longs to fill us up with Himself. Are we willing to let go of cheap, shallow emotional games and allow ourselves to be drawn to Someone much greater?

Church, we have to stand up and be honest about these heart issues with our young people. We have to be committed to teaching them how to have the strongest types of relationships – which start way before marriage with dating and pre-dating relationships. Life rarely goes according to textbooks, but if there were at least more honest talks about emotional purity and the choices we make with one another, perhaps we could avoid more of the confusion and heartbreak that’s happening. I, for one, would love to see less “dating of the hearts” and more dating based on truth, honesty, and a sincere desire to honor God with our relationships. It might take a while … but I think it would lead to greater results in the end.

And may I end with this: all of these are lessons I’m preaching to myself. Lessons learned the hard way over many years. To every guy I may have hurt over the years by playing these emotional games with, I am truly sorry. I am sorry for using you for my own selfish gratification of attention. I am sorry for not respecting you more, for not being honest about my own flirtations, and for being shallow. I am simply a human, ruined by great sin, but redeemed by a great Savior. And I trust that He can redeem even the most foolish of choices. His name be praised.

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